Judge: Auction of Inquirer parent company closed to public

Posted: May 22, 2014

The auction on Tuesday of The Inquirer's parent company will be closed to the press and the public, but the winner and the price should be publicly announced, a Delaware judge ordered Tuesday.

"Having considered the parties' submissions, I conclude that the auction should be conducted confidentially and that the auction should be closed to everyone but the participants and the trustee," Delaware Court of Chancery Vice Chancellor Donald F. Parsons Jr. wrote in a letter accompanying his order.

The auction is limited to the current owners of Interstate General Media Holdings L.L.C. IGM owns The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, three websites, and a printing plant.

Parsons said the winner and prevailing bid, "stated in terms of the purchase price including debt . . . should be made public." If neither ownership group agrees to a joint statement first, trustee William Chandler will announce the winner and price within one hour of the conclusion of the bidding.

The auction is scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. at the law firm Dechert L.L.P. in the Cira Centre near 30th Street Station.

IGM co-owners George E. Norcross III, Joseph Buckelew, and William P. Hankowsky form one bidding group, with Lewis Katz and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest as the other.

Under the order, the Norcross group will start the bidding at $77 million. Bids will increase $1 million every 10 minutes until one side drops out. The $77 million includes all of the owners' initial investments when they formed the company in 2012 plus IGM's current debt of about $15 million.

The Norcross group had requested that reporters and the Newspaper Guild be allowed to watch the auction. Katz and Lenfest wanted no public access.

Norcross spokesman Dan Fee said in a statement: "We are very pleased that the judge has agreed there should be disclosure of the auction price. We look forward to next week and, if successful in winning the auction, restarting the progress the company was making before it was derailed by this litigation."

A spokesman for Katz and Lenfest declined to comment.

In a letter to Parsons, the Guild, which represents nearly 500 IGM employees, sought public access, as if the matter was being heard in court. If it could not get that, it said, it wanted access as a party to the matter. The judge did not grant its request.

Guild executive director Bill Ross said he was happy that Parsons had ordered the release of the sale price. "I'm very disappointed my members, who are the working press, are not allowed to attend, but the judge ruled, and we have to live with his ruling," he said.



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